China announced on Wednesday that it plans to send two robots to the moon in December. The new mission, called Chang’e-4, hopes to get a lunar rover and lander on the far side of the moon. A major goal of the mission is to see whether the region is quiet enough (from human activity) to build a sensitive deep-space radio telescope.

China’s space agency announced new details about their upcoming mission to send two robots to the far side of the moon, Chang’e-4. The mission is named after the mythological moon goddess “Chang’e”. In a press briefing on Wednesday, Chinese officials said the Chang’e-4 rocket is poised to launch in December, before the new year.

Their primary goal while there is to get a better understanding of the moon’s internal structure and origins by studying crater rock containing bits of the moon’s mantle. They also hope to find out whether the region can be used to detect deep space radio waves. Without the massive amounts of interference we see on Earth from everything around us, it’s possible scientists could use the far side of the moon for a “super-SETI” so to speak.

The Far Side of the Moon

Credit: Apollo 16 Crew, NASA

How Will It Work?

The moon is incredibly good at blocking light and radio transmissions from Earth to its far side. When Apollo astronauts orbited the moon, they temporarily lost contact with mission control in Houston every time they passed behind the vast ball of rock.

But China is already has a workaround for this problem because it successfully launched a precursor mission called Queqiao in May.

Queqiao is a telecom satellite now parked in a gravity-neutral spot in space, called a Lagrange point, that overlooks the far side of the moon but maintains a line-of-sight to Earth.

“The name Queqiao means ‘magpie bridge’ in Chinese and comes from a Chinese folk tale, a love story about a flock of magpies that form a bridge crossing the Milky Way once a year to reunite lovers known as the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl, as well as their children”  – Luyuan Xu, The Planetary Society

Queqiao will act as a “bridge” between Earth and the Chang’e-4 mission after its robots land. China will be able relay info between Mission Control, the Queqiao satellite, and the Chang’e-4 lander and rover.

The Destination

Although they have picked the final landing site, is has not yet been released to the public, according to Space News.

However, some officials have previously said the landing site for Chang’e-4 will be near the moon’s south pole, where some craters hide water ice in permanent shadows, making them perfect spots to build long-term human outposts.

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